Our History

In 1993, Lorene Burkhart, a 1956 Purdue University alumna and Indianapolis media executive, pledged $1 million to establish the Center for Families (CFF) as a catalyst linking family research, outreach and teaching activities.

Burkhart’s lead gift inspired 40 individuals and couples to commit an additional $1.275 million in outright gifts and pledges. With their support, the Center for Families officially opened at Purdue in 1995.

Then, at the dawn of the new millennium – and a year before 9/11 – the Department of Defense tapped CFF to establish a separate research institute for studying military-connected families and sharing findings with policymakers and practitioners. Under the Office of Military Community and Family Policy, in 2000, the Military Family Research Institute (MFRI) was created.

MFRI’s growing presence on the state and national stage eventually caught the attention of Indianapolis-based Lilly Endowment, which, in 2007, gave an initial investment of $8.9 million so that the institute could leverage its research for greater impact. In addition to research, institute staff and faculty were now also tasked with assisting professionals within both the military and civilian communities to help improve the quality of life for military-connected families.

Fast-forward to 2022. In the more than two decades that have ensued since MFRI’s founding, societal and political forces have shaped a new world order. The composition of our armed forces, once primarily made of single men, has also changed considerably, with more parents, spouses and partners being deployed stateside or overseas. United States demographics have changed as well, causing us to redefine what constitutes family.

Policy and practice are changing in response to these shifts, thanks to the innovation and diligence of researchers, staff and collaborators at organizations like the Military Family Research Institute.

Ultimately, none of these successes would have been possible without the support of our donors, funders and volunteers. From those who sustained us in our earliest days to those who continue to propel us forward, thank you. Because of your persistence, we are forging better futures for families.